A Small Sip from the Fountain of Youth




The search for eternal youth is as old as time itself. The theme of immortality winds its way through religion, mythology, poetry, fiction, and modern movies. Usually, stories of those who have achieved immortality expose the curse of eternal life, rather than the blessing of perpetual youth. While living forever may never be possible, life expectancy is steadily increasing, and healthier — that is, more youthful — aging may actually be possible.

New research published in the medical journal The Lancet posits that most babies born since the year 2000 will live to be at least 100 years old. The authors studied the life expectancies of children born in several countries of Europe and North America, wealthy countries that already have long life expectancies. However, the trend of increasing life expectancy is similar throughout the world. We have known for decades that people are living longer, thanks to advances in medical treatment, better understanding of healthy lifestyle habits, and improvements in living and working conditions. The real question is: what is the quality of the extra years of life?

Will the someday-centenarians simply be alive longer, but be afflicted with the same maladies and disabilities seen in aging populations today? Or, will they maintain their strength and fitness longer into life? Thankfully, the authors of the current article believe that aging is a modifiable process, and that the aging populations of the future will be healthier than those today, making the extra years a blessing rather than a curse.

Much research has been conducted on the process of aging and a great deal of it focuses on calorie and nutrient intake. Reducing caloric intake in rats, mice, and primates extends their lifespan up to 40 percent, and is accompanied by health benefits. Caloric restriction protects against the damaging effects of aging by blocking certain proteins and activating signaling molecules, which lead to leaner body mass, stronger bones, protection against type 2 diabetes, improved immunity, and increased cognition and motor skills.

Drugs that might mimic caloric restriction and the function of proteins and signaling molecules are being investigated, including the well-known diabetes drug metformin and the immunosuppressant rapamycin. Clinical trials are already underway investigating the effects of highly concentrated antioxidants, such as those found in red wine, that have similar effects to reducing caloric intake.

Just adding more years to life may not be desirable, unless we can add life to the years. With an ever-aging population that will live longer than ever before, it is important to ensure that people live healthier lives. Healthy aging, no matter what the life expectancy, includes proper nutrition and physical activity, disease and disability prevention, and optimal social structure. By manipulating the process of aging, people no longer have to assume that poor health and disability are unavoidable, but can live long, healthy lives.

References

Um, S., D’Alessio, D., & Thomas, G. (2006). Nutrient overload, insulin resistance, and ribosomal protein S6 kinase 1, S6K1 Cell Metabolism, 3 (6), 393-402 DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2006.05.003

Christensen, K., Doblhammer, G., Rau, R., & Vaupel, J. (2009). Ageing populations: the challenges ahead The Lancet, 374 (9696), 1196-1208 DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(09)61460-4

Selman, C., Tullet, J., Wieser, D., Irvine, E., Lingard, S., Choudhury, A., Claret, M., Al-Qassab, H., Carmignac, D., Ramadani, F., Woods, A., Robinson, I., Schuster, E., Batterham, R., Kozma, S., Thomas, G., Carling, D., Okkenhaug, K., Thornton, J., Partridge, L., Gems, D., & Withers, D. (2009). Ribosomal Protein S6 Kinase 1 Signaling Regulates Mammalian Life Span Science, 326 (5949), 140-144 DOI: 10.1126/science.1177221

Sadovsky, R. (2009). Facilitating healthy aging among men: making some impact Journal of Men’s Health, 6 (2), 98-100 DOI: 10.1016/j.jomh.2009.02.002

  • Yes: “Just adding more years to life may not be desirable, unless we can add life to the years”
    Also: where are all these people going to live, given the ever increasing number on the planet?

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.

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